Work-life balance is dead. Integrate instead.

VetReflections Work-Life Integration

Today the boundaries between one’s professional and personal life are constantly blurring. It is impractical to think of work-life balance as a complete separation between worlds.

Technology means that we’re all available 24/7. Everyone (and particularly emerging group of millennial clients) demands instant reaction and instant connectivity, there are no boundaries, no breaks.

Each of us probably asked ourselves the age-old question: is it ever possible to juggle work and home life effectively? Well, the answer could depend on how well we can integrate all the pieces – rather than simply relying on getting the balance right.

Balance is unrealistic goal that stresses us out more than we think. This is particularly true for veterinary professionals, who never quite had a ‘balance’ to begin with because pet lives and client’s demands often come first. Even when we work in the industry, often we approach projects as ‘critical patients’

In light of the dramatic increase in suicide rates in our profession – it is important we adapt a more realistic terminology and more importantly explore how veterinary team & leadership could help make work-life integration an everyday reality.

Key Definitions:

VetReflection Balance
BALANCE
VetReflections Integration
INTEGRATION
50% work / 50% lifeComplete integration of:
-Work
-Home/Family
-Community
-Alone Me Time
Either / orIntegration
Right/ WrongAll valuable
One size fits allFlexible
Work HarderWork Smarter
Burn Out risk
Low Engagement
Productivity
Satisfaction
High Engagement

The benefits of work-life integration

value

Work-life integration is a great way to give time and attention to all areas of life, without having to sacrifice one for the other. It is more realistic to achieve and it brings a new outlook on work.

Veterinary professionals in selected specialties (like dermatologists, oncologists, physiotherapists, locum vets) have the advantage to make it happen due to the nature of their work and new technologies supporting distant online communications. For others, such as ER vets or surgeons – the entire system needs to be flexed.

Work-life integration doesn’t look the same for everyone – and how one chooses to organise their time will depend on both their professional and personal commitments and aspirations.

Whilst work-life integration is often a useful way to fulfill personal and career goals simultaneously, nobody expects veterinarians to merge both areas of their life completely. Attention must be paid to well-being and overall happiness and, crucially, veterinary professionals must do what’s right for them personally.

It might not work for everyone – but done right, work-life integration could be key to improving your career happiness and reducing levels of stress, anxiety, burnout and suicide.

Today, the picture is mostly like this:

  • Defined Schedules
  • Time off is strictly scheduled and generally restricted (e.g. vacation)
  • Break from work is not generally acceptable, maternity leave is limited
  • Break from work is not generally acceptable, parental leave is limited
  • Veterinary work can only be done in the clinic environment (industry vet work – in the corporate office)
  • Passion projects (new specialty, professional course of choice or even a hobby) only funded by the individual as if ‘non-work related’
  • Exercising strictly before or after work
  • Leaving work shift exactly at X pm, as per agreed standard shift schedule, to pick up a child after daycare
  • A single policy for all

In the future of integration, it should look more like this:

  • Flexible schedules that allow integrating day to day life, powered by AI technologies and efficient scheduling algorithms
  • Systems are in place to handle ad hoc time offs, making them ‘normal’ (in partnership with locums)
  • Sabbaticals are generally accepted, maternity/paternity leaves are flexible
  • Some work can be done from home with the support of technology (Telework, Telemedicine, Telehealth, Digitalisation of paperwork, AI assistants replace paperwork all together)
  • Employer supports, encourages and even funds individual ‘passions’ and side-hustles to ensure overall well-being, happiness and development
  • Yoga, mindfulness, gym at the clinic. Often a dedicated position to support well-being.
  • Bringing the child to work after school with someone to watch over should there be a need or as a common service
  • Flexible policy based on the individual situation

Suggested readings & activities to explore

  • Read ‘Leading the life you want. Skills for integrating work & life” by S.Friedman. Some of the ideas outlined in this blog were inspired by this book.
  • Complete personal assessments to increase self-awareness and understand your individual needs, for example ‘Emotional Index’
  • Commit time to daily reflection (check Vet Reflections blog for more posts on reflective thinking and consider joining our 7-day challenge)
  • Practice and experiment with work-life integration concept. Work with your employer to develop a small initiative in your clinic (arrange for one if you are a practice owner!)
  • Get a support from the life-coach (you will be surprised what good coaching can do to you:)
  • Share what you have learned with others and support those in need.
  • Stop to enjoy when things are good, remember that feeling for a “rainy day”

SUMMARY

There are plenty of opportunities for veterinary professionals to establish a work-life integration. The fact that we did things in some way for decades, doesn’t mean it stays like this forever.

The profession is solely responsible for the well-being of veterinarians and for offering support and guidance to the members of the veterinary community.

Regular workshops (live and online) are advisable to further identify solutions, develop conceptual prototypes on how to change the way we operate to better integrate all aspects of life: work, home/family, community and personal ‘ME’ time, so we can live healthier and happier lives while continue helping animals.


Above content was originally prepared for the NAVDF 2019, where I moderated a Design Thinking breakfast session on the topic of work-life integration for veterinary dermatologists. If you are interested to run a session in your business or practice, please drop me a line below.

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